At Age 101 Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Beat Poetry Trailblazer, Dies

Written by Grace Hare Photo Courtesy The Guardian

At Age 101 Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Beat Poetry Trailblazer, Dies 

¨If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of,

Apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic

You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words. ¨

-Lawrence Ferlinghetti, From Poetry As Insurgent Art (I am signaling you through the flames) 

Beat poetry publisher, author, co-founder of City Lights  bookstore and a social activist, Lawrence Ferlinghetti died in his San Francisco home of interstitial lung disease on Feb.22, 2021. 

His legacy, however, lives on in his works and his publications, all which reflect the message a generation attempted to instill in reflecting the mid 20th century as they saw it. 

Sparked by  the 1950´s, the Beat Generation rejected societal norms and created publications that examined how to portray, as explicitly as possible, the human condition. 

Pieces such as Howl by Allen Ginsburg, and Naked Lunch by William S. Burrough were taken to trial for obscenity, and played an enormous role in helping liberalize publishing in the U.S. 

Few influencers other than the native New Yorker, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, played as large of a role in the publication of pieces of Beat Generation poetry and literature.

His effort earned him the pseudonym as the spiritual grandfather of the Beat movement, although he, himself rejected the label as a Beat author. 

In 1956, it was Ferlinghetti´s publication of Howl that led to his arrest on charges of ¨willfully and lewdly¨ printing ¨indecent writings.¨

Despite this, after an acquittal of the charges under the First Amendment, Howl became one of the most well known and influential pieces of prose in the 20th century. 

Born in 1919, Ferlinghetti began his career as a journalist who wrote largely in the sports section, while also contributing short stories to local newspapers and magazines. 

  He also served in the U.S Navy, before founding the book store with co-owner and student Peter Martin. City Lights.

Built in San Francisco, CA City Lights Booksellers and Publishers was the first American bookstore to sell paperback books. 

By doing so, Ferlinghetti made reading more accessible to the working class and to the public.

It was the beginning of his venture into creating a literary space where the brightest minds could congregate to read, write and wonder.

His dream of the City Lights Bookstore was visionary, and as he nurtured it, the store grew into the recognized place it is today.

  “For over sixty years, those of us who have worked with him (Ferlinghetti) at City Lights have been inspired by his knowledge and love for literature, his courage in the defense of the right of the freedom of expression, and his vital role as an American cultural ambassador,” a post on the official City Lights website said, honoring the life and contributions of their founder. 

A writer himself, Ferlinghetti published his most successful book of poetry, A Coney Island of the Mind.  

“Fifty years on, A Coney Island of the Mind, Ferlinghetti’s artistic and commercial breakthrough, still stands as an excellent example of both his social and poetic contributions, “ Rob Woodard of The Guardian said in a review in 2009. 

 When he was arrested on the charges of the explicit publication of Howl, Ferlenghetti stood up for what he believed in, and stood up for the freedom of speech.

“Freedom of speech is always under attack by Fascist mentality, which exists in all parts of the world, unfortunately,” Ferlinghetti said. 

 His extreme liberalism, his outlandish statements have been snubbed, questioned, and silenced since the 50’s. Despite this, it is certain that Ferlinghetti’s life defied the ordinary.

   Ferlinghettiś bravery to allow the unprohibited written works was his mark on the world. He gave a voice to a generation of thinkers, allowed the unfiltered publication of some of the works that shaped American literature for centuries. 

 “Though we mourn his passing, we celebrate his many contributions and give thanks for all the years we were able to work by his side,” City Lights said.

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